One of the current disconnects with the COVID-19 pandemic is the overload of seemingly conflicting and confusing information provided to the general public. It makes it difficult for most people to truly assess and act on the risks associated with.
The Applied Bioinformatics Laboratory at Georgia Tech University created an interactive map to help cities, counties, and people make decisions about the risks involved in group gatherings. The COVID-19 Event Risk Assessment Planning Tool estimates the risk level associated with events of varying sizes (from 10 people up to 10,000 people) of there being at least one person attending the event that is COVID-19 positive. Data is available at the county level, nationwide.
Events of 10 people or more are occurring statewide. Many restaurants and bars are open at more than 50% capacity and most businesses are allowing for such groups as well. In most of Oklahoma, the data supports that groups of 10 or less have a low likelihood, in most counties, of including a person who is positive for COVID-19. But with 10 or more, the risk associated increases exponentially. In Oklahoma County, the risk is 25% (1 in 4 likelihood that a group of more than 10 people includes someone that is positive for COVID-19), in Tulsa County 26%, and here across Southwest Oklahoma between 5 and 10%.
What is the risk of sending our kids back to school? The average class size for secondary schools in Oklahoma is 23.7, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics. With the teacher we can comfortably say that a classroom would have 25 people in it for a class. Among groups of 25 people the current risk that one of them is positive is 51% in Oklahoma County, 54% in Tulsa County, and 77% in McCurtain County. That means in McCurtain County alone there is a 3 in 4 chance that in any gathering of 25 or more people, at least one of them is COVID-19 positive. In Co- manche County, the current risk level for such a gathering is 19% (which is still a 1 in 5 chance), and between 10% and 20% across Southwest Oklahoma.
What about larger gatherings? While discouraged, we know that there are gatherings of 50 or more happening statewide. Most weddings have 50 or more in attendance, as do funerals, religious gatherings, family reunions and more. If you choose to attend a gathering of this size, your risk is 76% in Oklahoma County, 78% in Tulsa, 83% in Ottawa, and 95% in McCurtain counties. Here in Southwest Oklahoma, that risk is 35% in Comanche County, 40% in Kiowa, 36% in Cotton and Jackson, 28% in Stephens, and 19% in Tillman County.
When looking at gatherings of 500 or more, in 44 of 77 counties in Oklahoma, the risk is greater than 98%, while in 68 counties the risk is greater than 85%. It is nearly statistically guaranteed that any gathering of 1000 or more people in Oklahoma will include people who are positive for COVID-19.
Interactive maps like the COVID-19 Event Risk Assessment Planning Tool are critical to ensuring the general public has the information available, in an easy to understand manner, to evaluate and act on the risks of public gatherings as we continue to navigate through this crisis.